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Building Resilience and Embracing True Learning: Silver Linings in the Midst of the Pandemic

Building Resilience and Embracing True Learning: Silver Linings in the Midst of the Pandemic

With each passing week of working from home, not knowing quite when life will return to “normal,” I’ve found that my desire to connect with people is greater than I ever imagined.

It’s not that I don’t hear from people – I am on work calls from morning to night. But I miss connecting with my colleagues in the hallway and the break room. I miss having dinner with friends. I miss book club. I miss seeing faces and the sparkle in someone’s eye. I miss rooms full of laughter.

I know so many other women in both my personal and professional network who miss these things, too.

It’s in this spirit of wanting to connect that my firm invited some of our female advisors and their clients to join a virtual fireside chat with Tara Westover, the author of New York Times best-seller Educated, A Memoir.

[Related: Utilizing Employee Resource Groups For Remote Employee Engagement]

This virtual, but still personable, event was just what I needed, and many of the women who attended said it was just what they needed, too.

Tara’s story of self-education, resilience and finding herself is a timeless message, but one that resonates even more today when so many people are feeling a sense of isolation, loss and confusion. Rather than keep what she had to say to the 500 clients and colleagues who dialed in, I wanted to share some of her wisdom and message of hope with you.

Q: So many people are already familiar with your book and your story, but for those who aren’t, can you give a brief synopsis?

Tara: I was raised by parents who were pretty far outside of the mainstream. They didn’t believe in a lot of things that most people take for granted, like hospitals and public school. I didn’t have a birth certificate until I was 9 or 10. I had never set foot inside a classroom until I went to university when I was 17. Then I got really into education. I guess I was overcompensating. I did 10 years of education and then got my PhD. But because of my parents’ ideals, I felt I had to make a choice between my family and my education. What do you do when you feel like the loyalty you owe to your family is in tension with what you owe to yourself? That’s what the book is about.

Q: So you went from never setting foot inside a school to graduating magna cum laude from Brigham Young University, earning an MPhil from Trinity College in Cambridge and a PhD in history. Where did that spark and love for education come from?

Tara: I really liked singing. That was the long and short of it. I had this idea that I’d go to college and learn how to be a choir director because I loved music and I loved to sing. Some of my older siblings had gone to some high school and one brother went to college. When I told him what I wanted to do, he said, “Well, you have to go to college.” I asked, “How do you do that?” He said, “Well, you have to take this test, and you have to learn algebra.” So I was getting up at 6 a.m. trying to teach myself algebra. I’d love to say I had some idea of how important education was, but I was a 16-year-old kid, and I had visions in my head of singing. It’s the old cliché about passion and loving what you do. Because I loved music, I went to college, and because I went to college, I studied history and learned I loved that. You don’t really know where a love or passion will take you, but having no passions will probably take you nowhere. Passion is what gets you up at 6 a.m. There’s this thought about education that it’s about acquiring skills so you can get a job and make money and drive a better car. Education isn’t just about making a living, it’s also about making a person. It should be a benefit to you that isn’t just financial.

Q: So many parents have found themselves in a position of now having to teach their children at home while juggling work and all of these other things. What advice do you have for parents and children who are grappling with an entirely new way of learning today?

Tara: I am in awe of parents’ ability to keep working while cooking, cleaning and educating. I am in no position to tell people what they should be doing. I feel like if you think you’re barely surviving, it’s because it’s hard! Technically I was homeschooled, though there wasn’t a lot of school going on in my house. The upside was my own curiosity drove a lot of what I was learning. I wasn’t taught that education means sitting quietly in a room and having something presented to you. I thought it was that you have a question or curiosity about something and you go and try to learn about it. An education is not the same thing as school. Education isn’t exams and worksheets. It should feel like a discovery and a bit of an adventure, like “I want to know how that works.” I know parents are busy, but I wonder if there is an opportunity in this moment to let a seed of that kind of education take place. I wonder if there isn’t an opportunity in this one year for kids to get a feeling that their education belongs to them and they have to take control of it.

[Related: Overwhelmed Remote Working Parents: I’ve Made All the Mistakes So You Don’t Have To]

Q: Speaking of taking control, let’s talk about relationships. I think a lot of women feel it’s their responsibility to be peacekeepers in their families and maintain relationships with people no matter how hurtful or difficult doing so may be. Tell me about your relationship with your parents and how you finally took control of it?

Tara: I email with my mother probably once a month or so, but she won’t see me unless I see my dad, too. And I’ve found I really like my dad if I don’t see him. He’s a very contentious figure. I become less generous and less forgiving when I am around him. All the defense mechanisms I have go on overdrive. I’ve found for me this is the most peaceful way to navigate what is a really difficult relationship. Before this strange situation we find ourselves in, I’d travel around and talk about estrangement. I did it because when it happened to me, I felt like I was the only person in the world who it had happened to. I guess I felt shame, but that doesn’t even cover it. You’re supposed to get along with your parents, you know? It’s taken me a while to realize that not seeing my dad is the best answer. It’s not the ideal, but you can find peace in it. You can have a good life and let go of some of those relationships. If someone had told me that years ago, I would have said, “That’s not a life.” Now, having come through it, I can testify that there is a life on the other side, and you can rebuild.

Q: You talk about how you found fault with yourself during a period along your journey. We as women often look inward when something goes wrong and think there is something wrong with us. How did you overcome this?

Tara: The term people use is “gaslighting.” Others convince you that things were different than what you experienced. You stop trusting your own senses, and that’s a hard thing to overcome. When I first became estranged from my parents, I thought I just needed to retreat enough from them so I could hear myself again. And then I wrote the book and there it was in black and white. You might get the sense that I thought, “This is my view, and this is what happened.” But I did consider that maybe my memories are wrong and I left something out. The footnotes at the end point out how others remember certain instances. I get asked about that a lot. “Why would you point out other people’s recollections?” I think the foundation of respecting yourself is respecting other people. I don’t know if my version is final, but I am going to hold onto mine. I will listen to other people, but I have mine. I went through a period where I discounted my own opinions and then I overcorrected the other way and discounted everyone else’s views and opinions. That was the cycle – a total loss in the belief of my own point of view and then a total rejection of others’. Finally I found a middle ground. You have to believe in your point of view enough that you can acknowledge others have a different point of view without your whole world crumbling.

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As head of Advisor Recruiting and Field Marketing, Kristen Kimmell leads the firm’s efforts to invite the best talent in the industry to join the firm’s nearly 2,000-strong financial advisor base. In her role, Kristen works closely with the firm’s global head of diversity and human resources to recruit and retain diverse talent in both the advisor and corporate ranks. She is also the leader of the firm’s push to cultivate a diverse and inclusive advisor force and elevate the role of women within the wealth management industry.

RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.


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